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US inventor of bar code dies at 91

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N. Joseph Woodland, inventor of the now ubiquitous bar code that revolutionized retail, has died at the age of 91, US media reported Friday. 

An anti-G8 activist wears a bar code as a mask at a protest in Germany. N. Joseph Woodland, inventor of the now ubiquitous bar code that revolutionized retail, has died at the age of 91, US media reported Friday.

Woodland came up with the zebra-like pattern used to store information as he drew lines in the sand on a Miami beach 64 years ago, his daughter, Susan Woodland, told the Record, a New Jersey newspaper.

He and partner Bernard Silver, who died in the 1960s, patented the idea in 1952 and sold it to Philco, an electronics company, for $15,000, she said.

Woodland was a mechanical engineer and worked for IBM for some 35 years, retiring in 1987. He was also part of a team that developed a laser scanner capable of reading bar codes in the 1970s, transforming the way Americans shop.

Woodland and Silver, who were teaching at Drexel University in Philadelphia, began the work that led to the bar code after the head of a supermarket chain asked for help in developing a better way to keep track of inventory.

A former Boy Scout, Woodland wondered if Morse Code could be used to track inventory, and began drawing lines of different thickness in the sand during a visit to Miami in 1948, his daughter said.

The code that eventually emerged is now known as Universal Product Code, and Woodland won the National Medal of Technology in 1992.

Susan Woodland noted that her father came up with the idea for the bar code long before the computer age.

"He knew the technology didn't exist at the moment, but that it would exist," she told the Record.

In an interview with the News and Record of Raleigh, North Carolina, she recalled going shopping with her father after the codes started to appear.

"It was really fun the first couple of years when I was in college in the '70s, seeing grocery store chains start to adopt it," she said.

"Nobody understood what the numbers were and how the bars were read."

N. Joseph Woodland died at a senior center in his native New Jersey on Sunday from complications resulting from Alzheimer's disease, she said, adding that a funeral had been held earlier this week.

Woodland is survived by his wife of 61 years, two daughters, a granddaughter and a brother.

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